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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Vermont well Represented in World Series... of Birding!

The World Series of Birding takes place in New Jersey in May of each year, and for over a decade, youth teams have participated with NBNC. In this annual event, which is part competition and part fund raiser, teams scour the Garden State in an attempt to find and identify as many types of birds as possible. As one generation of World Series alumni are becoming adult conservationists, a new generation is participating for the first time, and both shared the experience together this year.

Our youth team had the joy of discovering Cape May County and exploring the fields, forests, beaver ponds, and beaches full of birds. From dawn until dusk, they enjoyed countless “life birds” and tallied an impressive 111 species. Our team of young adult “alumni” spent a full 24-hours scouring Cape May and finding 148 species during the competition. Additionally, the teams raised thousands of dollars to benefit the NBNC’s Youth Birding Program.

Whether watching a Ruby-throated Hummingbird sitting on its nest by day, or listening to the echoing calls of Clapper Rails ringing through a saltmarsh at night, the memories from our birding “big day” will last a lifetime. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

To Bird or Not to Bird

A question I ask myself most spring mornings is," Should I go running or should I go birding?" My running shoes are right next to the bed so I am faced with them each morning as I wake. Peregrine Saucony's, running shoes so appropriately named for a birder! And my binoculars are hanging by the door, saying "Choose me! Choose me! Not those pink and blue shoes!"
Decisions, decisions! We know running isn't really great with a pair of binoculars hanging around your neck, binocular bra or not. The site of a newly arrived warbler may cause a shortness of breath, but birding doesn't really bring the heart rate up. So, what do you choose? Binos or the trail shoes?
Well, here's an idea. Choose the sneakers and leave your ipod at home. Enlighten those wonderful tools on the side of your head, the human ears, and do some birding by ear.
I have been running the same trail up Spruce Mountain for 10 years and it has been one of the best long term birding experiences to date. I know every bend, rock, root, and bird song along that trail. Not too mention the diversity of habitats I pass through along the way. Hemlock stands, power lines, a southwest facing hardwood forest, small brooks and old pastures with feathered edges of shrubs and fruit trees. The birds are numerous, the diversity something to be proud of, and for the beginner birder, more than overwhelming.
I started with one new bird at a time. "zee-zee-zee-Zoo-zee!"
Obviously not a chickadee. Running and focusing on that one song, I carried the tune back home and to my birding by ear resources. Black-throated green warbler. Check! Got it in my memory and in my muscles. That's called kinesthetic learning. Moving, talking, and creating images in your head. Powerful learning indeed.
As the seasons and years have gone by I feel like that trail run of mine is lined with friends. And most likely birds that come back to that same exact place every year. The solo guitar rift of the winter wren, melodious spiraling of the veery, the nonstop caffeinated song of the red eyed vireo. I have learned and embodied all these songs simply by running and paying attention to the sound of birds around me.
I like to learn new things. It's one the great things about being a human. There is always more to learn. And the more we learn about our green, green state of Vermont, the more we fall in love with it.

Please join us here at NBNC on May 19th from 7am to 3pm for BIRDFEST.  Amongst our line up of great workshops and activites, staff naturalist Larry Clarfeld will be teaching a workshop about how to fine tune your ear to the sound of bird song. Birding by Ear at 9:30. No running shoes required.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Bird Comes Home

It being such a beautiful morning, I couldn’t resist taking a short walk down to the North Branch to see what migrant birds had arrived over the weekend. I wasn’t disappointed – Common Yellowthroat, Gray Catbird, Yellow Warbler, Northern Parula, Osprey and Eastern Kingbird were all singing, feeding or flying down along the river. The highlight, however, was a Chestnut-sided Warbler, which was boldly declaring its territory with a loud “please, pleased, pleased to meetcha”.

As soon as I heard the warbler singing, I wondered if it might be banded. We started a bird banding operation here at the North Branch Nature Center last summer and we banded a total of 22 Chestnut-sided Warblers. In fact, the very first bird we banded was a Chestnut-sided Warbler. Even though this was my first sighting of the species for the season, I thought just maybe this particular bird was one of our local breeders.

Sure enough, when I raised my binoculars, I immediately saw the tiny, shiny aluminum band around its right leg. It was one of our birds!  I had already seen banded Black-capped Chickadees and Song Sparrows on the property this spring, but seeing this Chestnut-sided Warbler was an exhilarating experience. Here was a bird that either nested or was born here on the property – and then migrated thousands of miles to some tropical locale like Costa Rica - and then back again!

Seeing a Chestnut-sided Warbler is always special, but knowing that this individual was intimately connected to this place and that he had survived such an enormous migration to come back the North Branch Nature Center, was truly a gift.  

Posted by Chip Darmstadt

Photo credit: William H. Majoros
Interested in seeing a Chestnut-sided Warbler for yourself - or checking out a bird banding demonstration? Come to Bird Fest at the North Branch Nature Center on Saturday, May 19. Visit the North Branch Nature Center website for more info.